Just two days after Olympian Kara Goucher finished an impressive third at the 2009 Boston Marathon, Senior Fitness Editor Lindsey Emery and I got the chance to chat with her about life as a professional runner. Despite having just come off a whirlwind weekend of nonstop interviews and appearances, (oh, and running 26.2 miles at an average pace of just under 5:50 a mile!), Goucher was super nice and more than willing to chat about her training and eating regimens. While Goucher has worked with a sports nutritionist in the past, these days she's more of DIY-type when it comes to making sure she's fueling properly for her intense twice-daily runs. "Everybody is different, so the key is discovering what works best for you," she explained. "For me, that took some trial and error, but I think I finally figured it out." Here, her top strategies for eating right — whether you're running, racing, or hitting the gym after work.
1. Change your view: "After I finished Boston, a reporter asked if I was going to eat whatever I wanted for the rest of the week. The truth is, I eat what I want every day, so this week won't really be any different. I love food, but I don't look at it as a reward for a hard workout; it's fuel to help me run harder and recover faster."
2. Find what works: "When I worked with the nutritionist before the New York Marathon she had me trying out all these fancy products and special sports drinks. But during the race, that stuff really upset my stomach. So now I do what works for me: I focus on eating lean protein, vegetables, and whole-grain carbs to power me through my workouts. In races I keep it simple with a regular sports drink and gels."
3. Be flexible: "The night before races, I used to get really upset if I couldn't have spaghetti. I worried I wouldn't run as well if I ate something else. Once I started traveling more, I realized that eating spaghetti before every race wasn't going to be possible. Now, I don't stress about it; I get what I can get. The night before New York I had seared ahi tuna, which looking back might not have been the best choice, but it was delicious!"
4. Don't obsess: "I used to be super restrictive about what I ate and watched everything I put into my mouth. Then I went the other way, and ate a little bit too much of everything. Now, I'm in a healthier place. No food is off limits — if I tell myself I can't have something, I'm way more likely to eat the entire container than if I allow myself to just have some. So I eat healthy most of the time, but if I want dessert, or a glass of wine, I have it!"
What she ate the night before Boston: Bread with butter followed by pasta with meatballs in a wine sauce topped with Parmesan cheese.
What she sips during the race: Water and watered-down Powerade
What she eats after finishing: A protein shake — to help settle her stomach and get her body into recovery mode faster.
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, May 2009.